On Social Justice

This is a monologue on the semantics of the term social justice, in order to make clear the definition for not only the author but others who may read this. First off, why do people say social justice and not simply justice? The difference is actually small, as the former is more an indication of a more inclusive definition of what constitutes the latter, more simple term. Justice is defined by large and general consent and is usually codified into law. Social justice is more defined by moral feelings on what ought to be done, in particular in regards to other people or even the public at large. Legal justice usually deal with something established, that wrong doers need to be punished in order to deter future criminals from committing the same. Social justice is more contentious, for example it may ask whether we should tax and redistribute wealth in order to help others.

A persons feelings on the matter can be informed by both reason… but is usually clouded by emotion. Generally though –social justice is about making things more equitable. Everyone is born into circumstances outside their control and are given a hand that they had no say in determining. This is important when we consider the impacts of intersectionality. This jargon is not that difficult to grasp, it is when multiple aspects of a persons individual being and circumstance intersect in such a way that compound and may grant privileges or advantages and disadvantages.

Arbitrary facts of someones life such as their gender, race, socio-economic background, religion or culture can all impact them in positive or negative ways. The problem is when these aspects work together to exacerbate someones chances at living their lives at a full capacity. An easy example is a poor single-parent, visible-minority person struggling to raise a family and pay the bills. Ones level of empathy will impact how we perceive these persons, but there is generally a shared feeling that the disadvantaged should be helped. Whether this be done by voluntary contributions from neighbors and friends, or from government policies that address the issue is what is contended. What is clear though is that usually a disadvantaged persons situation is largely not their fault and was decided by arbitrary factors, and these factors should be accounted for and corrected.

Someone may think this is about equality for all, or that it is advocating some kind of socialism. In reality it is about recognizing the facts and acting in accord with reason instead of preference, thus creating a more equitable society for all. This sounds reasonable but it is usually obfuscated by those with something to lose. This is the case for anyone feeling that their privileges are threatened, this is why you have the confusing case of those with White European descent complaining that they are being discriminated against. Well yes, they are indirectly by such programs as affirmative action but they should recognize two things: without such programs there is an arbitrary unfairness in our society, and that their privileges they gained by virtue of being born are not rights. Privileges are not entitlements.

In a perfect world, differences between people would be recognized and accounted for in order to make things more fair. We will never have full equality between all, for we are all born with different characteristics and in contexts outside of our control. In that regard we should adopt the terms of equity and forego the ones of equality. There is a prevailing myth in the developed world that anyone can lift themselves up, from rags to riches simply by exerting themselves. However systemic prejudice and even outright discrimination, along with subconscious discrimination work with intersectionality to ensure this doesn’t happen in a lot of cases.

The belief in social mobility is the opiate that keeps the marginalized from crying out in anger. Those who were lucky and were born with attributes deemed valuable, such as “whiteness,” good looks or wealth don’t see the problem until their privileges come under threat. Another problem is that those who do see that they are privileged and have an easier time at things usually feel some sort of self-loathing from the fact. I don’t think any of this is helpful, feelings are not sufficient to enact change. Also a privileged person is not at fault for their luck any more than the disadvantaged. What needs to happen is a recognition of the other, marginalized and ostracized as human beings with their own wants and needs that in many cases is frustrated.

We should simply lend a helping hand if we can, or get out of the way if we will not.